Congratulations to ANU School of Music Graduate Studies alumnus CJ Shaw on his 2020 Telstra ARIA Music Teacher Award nomination!
Jimmy Barnes surprised CJ with the virtual announcement at Palmerston District Primary School where he currently teaches.
We caught up with CJ for a quick Q&A ahead of voting closing on Wednesday 18 November.
Vote for CJ here >> aria.com.au/vote
Canberra’s CJ Shaw completed graduate studies at the ANU School of Music in 2017 and is currently one of four people nominated for the 2020 ARIA Music Teacher award—a first for the ACT.
How did your studies at the ANU School of Music contribute to where you are now?
Before studying at the ANU School of Music, I had been a primary school classroom teacher for over five years at a public school in Sydney, as well as an International School in Timor-Leste. During my time in the classroom I was using music as both a circuit breaker from traditional learning, but also as a means to allow students to access the curriculum. I soon realised that by writing and singing songs tailored to the Australian Curriculum my students were not only retaining more information but were also highly engaged in their learning. As a self-taught songwriter and muscian, I took the leap to make music my speciality and gain formal training.
This inspired me to undertake further study at the ANU School of Music under the guidance of Dr Chris Sainsbury with a focus in children’s music. I focused on expanding on these classroom experiences, developing and formalising my original compositions that accumulated in the recording of a 5 song children’s album “In Kindergarten”. The album was recorded and engineered by Craig Greening at the ANU School of Music Recording Studio. Dr Sainsbury challenged and inspired me to expand my musical practice to score music for a choir, incorporating 3-part harmonies, that were later sung by the ACT Open School Choir, directed by Tobias Cole. It was an incredible experience to have my songs sung by such an incredible youth choir, brought to life under the direction of Tobias Cole who took my melodies off the stave and turned them into beautiful sounds that left me, as a songwriter, with a great sense of pride in my work.
My recent ARIA award nomination for Music Teacher of the Year was based on the dynamic music curriculum that I developed in part during my studies at ANU School of Music. One element that drew the attention of the ARIA judges was the make-shift Recording Studio I set up at Palmerston Primary School. This studio was used to record the students' voices on the song ANZAC Biscuits, with some guidance from engineer Craig Greening ANU School of Music. By taking the students on the journey of recording the song in studio setting provided them with an understanding of the technical process, but further allowed them to listen back to themselves that allowing them to regulate their pitch and vocal control. The song has gone on to have incredible success not only in the school community, but also in the wider Canberra community, where it was played on ABC radio as well as shared by Australian War memorial.
How important is music education and expression for our next generation?
On working with children, I wanted them to legitimize their experiences through music. As part of my studies at ANU School of Music I was consciously creating original compositions that spoke directly to the daily lives of my students, notably ‘In Kindergarten’ talks of the changes that students undergo as they travel through Primary School. I wanted them to see value in their existence and that it is worthy of art. I had been overexposed to hearing my students in Canberra (and previously Sydney) singing songs about fast cars in Las Vegas, instead I wanted to hear them sing songs about their own lives and realties. Building on these compositions written at ANU School of Music, I drew upon my experience of writing for children’s lived experiences when I was asked to write a song for ANZAC Day destined to be sung by the students.
Palmerston District Primary School is a Defence school with many students’ parents in the armed forces. Many of the parents of my students have gone to war, but war as a topic is so vast and complicated that often children are singing songs with sentiments and concepts that are over their heads. The song ANZAC Biscuits placed the students at the centre of the topic of war, not only did this open up an educational angle for the students it also gave them a chance to express their point of view- legitimizing how war impacts their lives. Using the recording studio to add their vocals allowed the students to take further ownership of the song, reinforcing the notion that they are music makers. Palmerston students feel immensely proud of ANZAC Biscuits, not just those on the recording but all students across the school see it as their song.
The impact of using music to legitimize the experiences of my students has been immense, especially on self-esteem. When students see themselves in the lyrics and take ownership of the songs they transform in front of your eyes, singing louder, clearer and with confidence. Better still they take these songs out of my music room and sing them proudly on the playground.
What would winning this ARIA mean to you?
As a musician, I have always drawn inspiration from the ARIAs. I closely followed the nominees and their music (sometimes on listening on repeat) to inspire my own music practice and experimentation with song writing. The ARIAs are significant platform for our Australian music industry giving well-earned credit and recognition to our Australian songwriters. I am particularly grateful for the ARIAs who, in these times of uncertainly for the music industry, provide a beacon on inspiration and a reason to celebrate this nations music achievements!
As a music teacher I aspire to break down the walls between the classroom and the wider Australian music industry to give young students the skills, confidence and opportunities to envisage themselves as emerging musicians, ready to forge their own creative path. So far my ARIA nomination has ignited the students of Palmerston District Primary school and made them feel as if they themselves have been nominated alongside me. I’ve always said that my aim as a music teacher is to kick-start and consolidate the love of music in my students and, perhaps if we win this award, we will not only see new budding musicians in Canberra but perhaps a whole sea of future ARIA award winners.
Voting closes Wednesday 18 November >> aria.com.au/vote